Never Sell Signed Books
By Mel Goldberg
I sold my autographed books at the Bookman’s Used Book store in Flagstaff. I hated to do it but I got over $300 which really helped. I started walking back to my car, wondering why used book stores always seem to be in older parts of town. That was when I saw a burly man standing next to my car. He grabbed my arm and indicated he had a gun in his pocket.
“Get in the car and keep your mouth shut. You drive.”
As I opened the door I saw three other people in the back seat of my car, two men and a woman. They somehow looked familiar, like old friends I hadn’t seen in a long time. “How’d you get into my car? What do you want?”
The woman leaned forward, her hands on the back of the driver’s seat. “Why’d you sell us?”
The question puzzled me. I looked at her carefully as we entered my car. Her short, dark, hair and her jeans and turtleneck sweater made her attractive in a masculine sort of way in. Then it hit me. “Kinsey? Kinsey Milhone?”
“You got that right, buster. So answer my question.”
Now I began to get a bit scared and stammered. “I . . . uh . . .I needed the money.”
The man in the passenger seat pushed his gun into my ribs. His knees bumped the dash of my small Hyundai, so I knew he was tall. He glared at me, and I could see his eyes were blue. I was shocked. “I know you. You’re Philip Marlowe.”
“Very clever, you young punk. Start the car and let’s get going. Head west on old Route 66.”
I did as I was told.
He poked the gun in my side again. “We bust our asses solving crimes and our writers take the time to sign your damn books and this is how you treat us? You could have sold Ellery Queen. Or even that Belgian wimp, Hercule Poirot.”
I faltered over my words. “They’re not worth very much.”
A man in the back sneered. I could sense his disdain. “You got that right, kid. No one wants to buy them.”
I turned briefly to see who it was. “Oh my God,” I said. “You’re Lew Archer.”
“No shit.” My passenger set the gun on the seat next to him and took a small bottle of Jim Beam from his coat. “Don’t try anything stupid.”
After he took a swallow, he handed the bottle to the back seat. Archer took it.
“Lew’s right,” said Kinsey. “Who the hell wants Queen. That’s not even a real name for crissakes. It took two people, Frederick Dannay and Manfred Lee, to write his stories.”
Archer took a sip. “You even sold Sam Spade. Didn’t you appreciate his trouble with Brigid O’Shaughnessy? And that fucking gold falcon. How could you do that?”
Archer handed the bottle to the other man, who shook his head and said he didn’t drink. “That stuff’s deadly for us Indians.” I immediately recognized the deep distinctive voice of Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn.
We sped along in silence. Lew handed the bottle back to Marlowe. Kinsey sat back, her arms crossed. Leaphorn broke the silence. “Good thing Jim Chee isn’t here. He’d probably want to perform a Blessing Way ceremony for you.”
“Pull over,” said Marlowe. “This is where you get out.”
I maneuvered the car to the side of the road. I knew where we were. The forest was menacing and dark on the narrow highway. Trees and grass, but no houses. “Wait a minute. How do you expect me to get back?”
Leaphorn laughed. “You can always walk. Be glad we didn’t drop you out on the Rez.”
I exited the car and heard thumping from the trunk. “Who’s in there?
“That’s army deserter Lieutenant Fredrick Henry. Got in the trunk by himself when you sold A Farewell to Arms. A first edition, no less.”
“It didn’t have the jacket.”
“It was signed, you goddam loser. You think writers should just give their signatures away? There’s always got to be a price.”
“I’m sorry,” I stammered. I looked at the ground and said more softly. “I didn’t know. What can I do?”
Marlowe waved me back into the car, gun in hand. “You’re a pain in the ass, you little shit.”
“Yeah,” added Kinsey. “And I really liked your small apartment, especially my place on your bookshelf with all my other books.”
I got back into the car, drove back to the Bookmans. When they left, I went in, told them I had changed my mind, and bought back every book.